As an adult, I’ve found myself pursuing science education at a rate that would make my high school self reel. As a teenager, I did the bare minimum in science class, and only when taking physics as a senior did a spark of interest arise. The problem is that for most of us laymen, the terminology and word usage by scientists is confounding.
They insist on using words that have a different, or at least altered, meaning when translated over to the common colloquialism. In other words, 16-year-old me wanted to put in the bare minimum of work, and these science jerks were making homework tedious.
It makes things difficult when trying to explain simple concepts to a friend. For a time, I was heavily into evolutionary biology, and not for political reasons. I found the whole concept and study of mutations within species fascinating. I still do. But I was once asked to explain how I could believe observable evolutionary mutations had existed in the wild and not just forced in a lab. My mind was clear on the subject, but the words failed me. Because I relied on the words I’d read in scientific journals or in newsgroup discussions.
The word “evolution” itself is highly contentious. Scientists hold evolution as a fact and have proven that it does occur. However, there is a theory of evolution that is used to explain how it happens and why.
This is ever-changing as new information is discovered. This is a principle aspect of the study of evolution that misinformed people use to prove evolution to be a bunch of mumbo jumbo.
To help our readers make sense of things, we’ve put together a handy guide listing words that are often used differently by scientists than their common usage. Here are the top twenty most misused science words to help you keep it all straight.
The 20 Most Misused Science Terms
Science Usage: To change the velocity of an object, including speeding up, slowing down, or changing direction.
Common Usage: Most often used to mean speeding up or going faster.
Science Usage: A systematic error in sampling or testing that favors one outcome or answer over others.
Common Usage: Prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another, often considered unfair.
Science Usage: Referring to a condition or disease that is persistent or long-lasting in its effects.
Common Usage: Often used to describe something that is constant, severe, or habitual.
Science Usage: A material or object that allows the flow of electrical current in one or more directions.
Common Usage: A person who directs the performance of an orchestra or choir.
Science Usage: The process by which an unstable atomic nucleus loses energy by radiation; in biology, the breakdown of organic matter.
Common Usage: Often used to refer to something rotting or deteriorating, especially in an organic sense.
Science Usage: A substance that cannot be broken down into simpler substances by chemical means, consisting of atoms with the same number of protons.
Common Usage: A part or component of a larger whole.
Science Usage: A quantitative property that must be transferred to an object to perform work on, or to heat, the object.
Common Usage: Used to describe vitality, liveliness, or a forceful personality.
Science Usage: A measure of the amount of matter in an object, independent of gravity.
Common Usage: Often used interchangeably with weight, which is technically a measure of force.
Science Usage: A representation or simulation of a physical, biological, or informational system.
Common Usage: A smaller or simplified representation of something, or a person who models clothes or other products.
Science Usage: A physical quantity describing the motion of a body, equal to the product of its mass and velocity.
Common Usage: Used metaphorically to describe progress or driving force in a non-physical context.
Science Usage: Derived from nature, not made or caused by humankind.
Common Usage: Often used to imply something is wholesome, healthy, or free from additives.
Science Usage: Relating to or derived from living matter; in chemistry, compounds containing carbon.
Common Usage: Often used to describe food produced without synthetic pesticides or fertilizers, or natural products in general.
Science Usage: Any individual entity that exhibits the properties of life, such as growth, reproduction, and response to stimuli.
Common Usage: Often used to describe a large or complex living being, not necessarily inclusive of all life forms like bacteria.
Science Usage: The minimum amount of any physical entity involved in an interaction, fundamental in quantum mechanics.
Common Usage: Used to describe something small or a significant, sudden change.
Science Usage: An event or sample is said to be random if each possible outcome is equally likely. Crucial for the validity of sampling methods in statistics.
Common Usage: Used to describe anything unexpected, unusual, or without a discernible pattern or reason.
Science Usage: The degree of detail visible in an image or the smallest distinguishable detail in a scientific measurement.
Common Usage: Commonly refers to a firm decision to do or not do something.
Science Usage: Denoting a result that is statistically unlikely to have occurred by chance.
Common Usage: Something important, meaningful, or of considerable size.
Science Usage: Free from living germs or microorganisms; aseptic.
Common Usage: Often used more broadly to describe something that lacks liveliness, creativity, or excitement.
Science Usage: A well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world, based on a body of facts repeatedly confirmed through observation and experimentation.
Common Usage: Often used to mean a guess or a speculation, without the same level of evidence or acceptance.
Science Usage: A space entirely devoid of matter,
Scientists need to learn to communicate better with the public. We live in an age where information is the most valuable resource, and obfuscating that knowledge with equivocation, even if accidental, leads to more confusion